1. Though the building is celebrating its twenty fifth anniversary, The Local Covenant of the Church of the Resurrection was signed only l8 years ago. However, the road to ecumenism in Grovehill started much earlier around 1969 – when a Local Ecumenical Committee was formed. This was the time when the area around Grovehill and Highfield was in the process of being developed.
2. Land had been set aside for three sites in the Highfield/Grovehill area for the various denominations. The site for the Roman Catholic church was on Aycliffe Road – now the playground area for the junior school on that road. The clergy appointed to administer the area soon became attracted to the idea of a shared church. Thus was born the Local Ecumenical Experiment to consider provision of joint pastoral care, mission and worship
3. In an open meeting in January 1971, thirty people from the Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Salvation Army denominations agreed the following statement:
“We thank God for our work and worship together. We are convinced that we wish this work and worship together to continue. We recommend that the Church has one united building to be developed at either the Neighbourhood Centre or at the Cupid Green Church site. We would like to reserve the option on the present church site by the side of Kilbride Court and would recommend that the option on any further sites be given up.”
However, after much soul searching, the Methodists decided to retain their chapel in Cupid Green
4. At the time (January 1971) it was not clear that the Roman Catholics would join in the venture. Prior to the arrival of Fr. Hamill in 1971 Roman Catholics used to worship at the other two Roman Catholic parishes in the town. The hierarchy decided that a separate Roman Catholic parish should be established covering both Grovehill and Highfield. On a more practical level, the Sunday Mass attendance was expected to rise to around 500 worshippers. This would make joint worship on a regular basis in one place too large to be affordable.
5. It cannot be emphasised at this stage the tremendous debt owed to the Methodists of Cupid Green for permitting the Roman Catholics to say Mass at the chapel for six years during the complex negotiations to consider, build and complete the Church of the Resurrection.
6. While supporting the principle of ecumenism, the Salvation Army eventually found it could not support the idea of a Team Ministry to provide the joint services envisaged. Their representative felt that the principle of Unity pointed to a single leader.
7. By October 1971, the non Roman Catholic Christians were worshipping together and were known as the Anglican/Free Church Congregation. While ecumenism was a major target set at the Second Council of the Vatican, details of how this should be achieved at parish level had not yet been worked out. Hence joint Eucharistic Services with the Anglican/Free Church congregation could not be considered.
8. It was also becoming increasingly clear that the number of Christians in the area would be hard pressed to build separate churches for the Roman Catholic and Anglican/Free Church congregations. A combined building to house a shared church and the neighbourhood community centre was proving to be financially very attractive for several reasons. The Neighbourhood Association who were to run the Community Centre agreed to charge us a fixed percentage (33%) of the costs for electricity, water and heating for the whole building. They also agreed to waive hire charges for the Community centre Hall for major annual functions such as Midnight Mass or the Mass and party for the people with learning difficulties or 'one-off' events such as 'farewell' parties for clergy etc. We should also have the use of their kitchens and toilets which they would maintain and service.
9. However, the Roman Catholics were still unhappy with the building plans because they did not include features that suited their particular worship ethos. For example, the practice of placing the deceased body in the church overnight prior to burial the next day could not be followed. There were no sanctuary lamps to indicate the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, no votive lamps stand and holy water stoups or even a permanent altar and crucifix.
10. Agreement was reached quickly to modify the plans to include a ‘Lady’ chapel to permit the Roman Catholics to worship in surroundings they would find familiar. The costs of this additional chapel to the plans were to be borne by the Roman Catholic congregation directly. They also agreed that other congregations could use the Lady Chapel for worship.
11. Early in the project, opportunities to worship together were being explored. Initially, the congregations met for informal hymn singing sessions. It was quite refreshing to learn how much we had in common in that area. Meetings were held in the homes of several people to discuss the way forward. Many close friendships were formed not only with members of other congregations but also between members of the same congregation.
12. Weekly prayer group meetings were set up in the Lady Chapel after Wednesday Evening Mass, initially attended by only by Roman Catholics but soon joined by the Baptist minister and others. In fact, it was very heartening to see the Baptist Minister join us for the Wednesday evening Mass too.
13. It was also wonderful how we supported each other where we could not act together. In the case of Midnight Mass, for instance, the Roman Catholic congregation of Highfield and Grovehill could not fit into the Church. So the cost of heating, lighting etc. for the Community Centre Hall was shared between the Neighbourhood Association, the Anglican Free Church and ourselves.
14. The ‘retreat’- a Roman Catholic practice of a week long period of renewal – was adapted to suit the Anglican/Free Church and the Roman Catholic congregations. The team leading the retreat came down from Edinburgh to meet all the clergy and interested parishioners before the actual week of renewal. The actual style, content and conduct of the retreat was then modified to suit the views of those consulted.
15. Prior to the retreat, a house to house survey was carried out to find out where Christians actually lived and to invite them to the retreat. It was a major learning experience. Jehovah Witnesses and the Mormons since then have been treated with a great deal more appreciation by those of us us who carried out this survey! Alas in those days we did not realise how transient the population of Grovehill was going to be.
16. Similarly, we all supported Graham Smith who volunteered to work as a secondary school teacher in the Sudan for two years. We also jointly supported a poor parish in Central America for a year. They sent us a small cross/ plaque to say ‘Thank you’. This is displayed on the Church wall just inside the main door.
17. Since there were many from different parts of the United Kingdom the Commonwealth and Europe among our numbers, One World Week was marked by suppers where meals from different parts of the world – Scottish, Irish, Italian, Caribbean , Maltese, Indian, Chinese - were prepared by parishioners from both congregations and a grand time was had tasting, comparing and consuming the suppers.
18. Sadly there were some difficulties that took a long time to iron out – in the case of the Stations of the Cross some five years from proposal to completion. Even here, when it was finally agreed to set up the 'Stations’ permanently, the actual designing and embroidery work and the frames for permanent display were undertaken jointly by members of both congregations. That again underlines the inherent goodwill, patience and understanding among us – something valued and built upon.
19. The Local Covenant is another example of time and patience. We had already proved that our two congregations could coexist and co-operate together. It was felt, however, that the impetus along the road to ecumenism would be maintained if there was a clear commitment to this end. Following a suggestion by Ruth Matthews, the Baptist Minister in May 1983, a small group with members from the Anglican/Free Church and the Roman Catholic congregations drafted a Covenant of sharing worship which was finally adopted by both congregations of the Church of the Resurrection in June 1984 - fifteen years after the set up of the Local Ecumenical Experiment Committee meeting in 1969.
20. The Local Covenant makes our commitment permanent, visible and a reminder of our ultimate goal. It is a statement of our commitment to grow together, of our trust in each other, our cooperation and our determination to preserve the essential teachings of our particular denominations. This is as true today as it was yesterday and is intended to be so for tomorrow.
21. While we continue to do many interesting and varied things together, inevitably the early enthusiasm has waned among those still here after twenty five years. Hopefully, the generations below who have shown so far, a marked disinterest in all things to do with community will pick up the baton and run with it.